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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Azeris Hold 5 Russians For Spying

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azeri authorities have detained five suspected Russian spies and turned them over to the Russian Embassy to be sent home, according to an official statement published Tuesday.

Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry said the five men were detained last Thursday while using surveillance equipment in violation of Azeri law. When arrested, the men first identified themselves as workers of a private security firm but then said they were agents of the Federal Security Service, the ministry said.

The men said they were shadowing ethnic Chechens living in Azerbaijan, said the statement published in the official daily newspaper Azerbaijan.

After Russia appealed to Azerbaijan, it was decided to hand the detainees to the Russian side. On Monday night they were transferred to the Russian Embassy and their criminal case directed to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office. "Taking into account appeals from Russian government structures, and the friendly and good-neighborly ties between the two nations," the five men have been released to the Russian Embassy to be sent home, the statement said.

Relations between Russia and Azerbaijan have been strained in the past by Azeri accusations that Moscow sides with Armenia in the conflict over Nagorny Karabakh, an enclave located inside Azerbaijan but controlled by Armenia-backed separatists, but they have improved over the past year.

(AP, Interfax)